An Introduction to Latitude
When Goldilocks split with the 3 bears citing 'artistic differences' she wanted a Summer festival to help take her mind off things for a bit. She wanted to relax, meet friendly people, dance like no one was looking and have a good old giggle. Her first stop was Glastonbury. After 4 days on the gin and waking up in someone else's teepee she exclaimed "This one is so cool but it's bloody massive". A month or two later she paid a visit to V-Festival and blogged: "This one has some big acts but I can't take my vodka into the arena. Nazis". But when she arrived at Latitude festival her Facebook status summed it up quite nicely "Ahh" she said "... this one is just right."
Hot-shot hacks Rachel and Chris braved lightening storms, torrential rain and gale-force wind to arrive get to Henham Park in Southwold. The Safeconcerts bat-phone had rang late on the preceding Thursday afternoon and just twenty four hours later they were aqua-planing their way across the Fens to reach Latitude festival. Thankfully the skies cleared up shortly before arriving and base camp was comfortably established. First impressions of the festival were that Beach Break Live (our first festival review for Safeconcerts) was the Yin to Latitude's Yang. Where Beach Break Live had been a fairly intimate affair, with a few thousand students, Latitide was a sprawling, but well-organised mini-metropolis orbiting around a nucleus of nine main stages and arena areas. The demographic spanned countless young professionals with babies, well-behaved college kids and the Guardian-reading, MacBook-owner 'hip mum and dad' glitterati. That's a good thing though, it meant plenty of open minded individuals looking to enjoy the huge range of music, literature, comedy, cabaret and theatre on offer and not a spot of trouble to be seen. In fact the nearest we came to an 'incident' was the hilarious crowd-baiting that went on in the Sunrise arena - but more of that later.
There wasn't any relentless marching about between campsite and venue either. In fact our tent pitch was a stone's throw from the centrally placed lake area (where all sorts of things happened). When the wind blew in the right direction one could hear stray words of poetry drift over from the literary arena or (and how about this for an alarm clock) Thom Yorke performing his pre-gig sound check at the Obelisk stage.
The atmosphere was friendly and welcoming and the only inconvenience you can expect is the occasional 3-wheeler buggy going over your wellie-clad foot or finding yourself among a throng of junior Jedis called 'Ollie' and 'Max' as they duel with their neon light sabres. It's the only festival we've seen where fathers of four sit as equals with the skinny jean crew, staring blankly into the embers of last night's BBQ, desperately willing the kettle to boil and regretting the evening's excesses.
Latitiude felt to us like it had the diversity and quantity of entertainment you'd expect at Glastonbury, but condensed into the size of a smaller boutique festival. On paper, the mind-blowingly eclectic line-up suggested we'd have a job on our hands and in all honesty, given the selection of acts, we were a bit thinly spread. But we've risen to the challenge and put together a review capturing the sights, sounds and smells of Latitude festival 2009, but first we must explain to Papa bear who broke his foldaway camp-chair...
Getting to our Latitude and setting up - an experience
"Latitude: It’s more than just a music festival" read the banners strewn about the rustic backdrop of Henham Park, Suffolk. They couldn't have hit the nail on the head any harder. The Latitude PR engine have got it just right, it is SO much more than just a music festival...
While most of Leeds still had sleep in their eyes we were flying down the A1 on a collision course with Latitude. In a last minute rush, we'd grabbed everything we could get our hands on including half of LIDL's tinned goods section and a boot full of expectation. The five hour drive wasn’t too bad if you're willing to overlook the quintessentially English rain, hail stones, thunder and lightening. It was as if whoever is "upstairs" was trying to show us that there's as much variety in the weather as there are art forms on offer at our destination.
Setting up our tent in the rain was a truly terrifying prospect - all of a sudden having a motor home seemed like the greatest idea since packing our waterproofs. But we persevered and luckily arrived at a venue basking in glorious afternoon sunshine. We were greeted by very efficient and friendly car park attendants, who quickly guided us to the right parking spot. After collecting our wristbands we made our way to the guest camping site, just a minute's walk from the car. Camping at Latitude was divided into seven sections, including family, guest and disabled. All were easily accessible and manned by security personnel.
What we liked most about the relaxed atmosphere in the campsite was the friendliness and general feeling of people helping each other out. On the first day alone we were asked by some fellow campers if they could borrow a mallet, an airbed pump, some paracetamol and a mobile phone - maybe we just look too friendly!
Latitude is inclusive
The first thing that struck us about the festival was the broad age range of people making their way in. Babies were being carefully steered around sturdy tents by their trendy mothers, less able-bodied festival goers were tackling the easily accessible paths with their wheelchairs and well-behaved toddlers were roaming around unleashed. Now don’t get us wrong, we're fully aware that children and festivals are some people's idea of hell (especially parents!) but we can assure you: not at Latitude. The sheer amount of activities available for children was quite staggering. You are pretty much guaranteed not to hear the words "I'm bored" for three whole blissful days.
Families have their own dedicated camp site located in a prime position, only a toy's throw away from the "Kids' Arena". It was quite endearing watching all the little faces light up after finishing a painting or making their own pizza. Other activities on offer included a clay self-portrait workshop (very reasonably priced at £1 per child), mask and costume making and pond dipping to name a few. Also, every evening in the Literary Arena there was a "Children’s book at bedtime" reading. What a perfect opportunity for some parents to escape and catch half an hour of their favourite band! Prices for children in the kids' arena seemed very reasonable; one stand was selling squash for 50p and sandwiches for £2.
Latitude is breathtaking, scenic, alive and aware
The walk from the main camp sites through the woods to the arenas is truly breathtaking. For fellow Lord of The Rings fans we would liken the atmosphere and setting to the film scene of Bilbo Baggins' birthday party. Everywhere, there were people dotted amongst the ferns enjoying one another's company, excited chatter filled the air as festival goers perched on tree branches soaking up the ambience. The trees were laden with encouraging words in neon: "Positiveness", "Harmony" and "Tranquility". It was here that we stumbled across the bizarre "Sonic Manipulator", one of the weirder acts strewn about the forest – a space man singing high-pitched songs about watching people in their sleep (!?!). This beautiful woodland area was the enchanting backdrop to the Sunrise Arena. It was here that we would watch "!!!" perform later on that weekend.
The Sunrise Arena was arguably the most energetic, albeit secluded, stage at the festival – if you prefer a "gig" to a concert then head to this stage or one of the other smaller ones in the woodland. That isn't to say the larger stages are sedate, they just cater for those who might like to put down a chair or picnic blanket. It is this kind diversity that offers something for both the "kids" and the "grown ups".
While walking through the woods it became apparent we were attending an extremely Green festival. Every few yards there were recycling bins, ashtrays were tied to fences to encourage people to not use the floor and there were extremely efficient compost toilets in use at the top of the wood. In all honestly, for the whole duration of the festival we did not see one cigarette butt on the floor – which is quite an achievement.
The "On The Waterfront" stage was the most scenic venue at Latitude festival. It was a platform positioned in the middle of the central lake next to a bridge surrounded by large lily-shaped lanterns that lit up at night and attracted large numbers of people like moths. We spent some time here watching gondolas gently float past and listening to the eerie sound of a solo flautist playing inside a sphere on the water. Radio microphones transmitted the flute to computers on the shore, so that the sound was bounced around the lake from speaker to speaker. It produced a very haunting sound as a second sphere entered the water with a trapeze artist inside, spooky stuff!
Latitude has intimacy and a community feel
Dotted all around the pasture in between brightly painted sheep were heaps of tiny intimate stages along with art displays and various activities encouraging people to join in. The whole place had a brilliant sense of community spirit, with smiling families enjoying their time together. We came across "The Tree of Lost Things" a place where people would hang a tag on the tree having written on it something they had lost. Some of the results were hilarious and had us in stitches like "Control of my bowels" and "Monkey lost in Sainsbury’s and found three days later in the banana section", it was all good clean(ish!) fun. It is worth noting that "ratings" boards (a bit like film certificates) were outside any venue which showed adult content.
A short walk over the lake bridge was the main arena. We decided to grab a cheeky drink but unfortunately we were confronted with the usual festival prices: cider was £3.60 a pint, lager £3.00 and a glass of wine was £4. We were told by other people that it wasn't the most difficult task in the world to smuggle a few cans in to ease the financial burden. Entrances to the arenas are more relaxed than at the larger commercial venues – you won't be herded aggressively like cattle if you have the right attitude. At the bar people were given eco-cups and encouraged to bring the same cup back to the bar for it to be replaced with a new one.
The food prices are what you would expect for a festival a main meal averaging at around £5-6. One of us is a vegetarian (guess!), so we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of meat-free food on offer. We even spied a Loch Fyne selling oysters, how very civilised.
Latitude delivers fun, comedy and thought
Vodka and coke in hand we checked out the Comedy Arena. The tent was pretty big, but the demand for space was even bigger. We were unable to get inside, but quite happily sat outside and watched the big screen, basking in the glorious sunshine that seemed to want to hang around, despite the best efforts of the occasional rain cloud. The comedy tent had an impressive line up including big names such as Jo Brand (rude!), Dave Gorman (topical and observant) and Mark Thomas (political). Mark Thomas delivered his "Latitude Manifesto" – a crowd participation event where members of the audience were invited to submit policy suggestions to add to his political agenda. As you might expect, MP expenses featured heavily in the performance. A sit down at the comedy offered a wonderful respite to standing up in front of a music stage.
Latitude also does music rather well
The Obelisk Arena was the main stage attracting a wide range of headline acts, such as The Pet Shop Boys, Grace Jones, Rumble Strips, White Lies and Datarock. It was a lovely set up, the beautiful woodland peeking through at both sides. A bar and ample toilets were only a few yards from the stage and you could also sit at the back on seats if you preferred.
The Pet Shop Boys played a thrilling set, their exuberant style complimented brilliantly by their on stage visuals, including glitter canons and helium balloons during the encore of "West End Girls". The backdrop to the stage was several floors of white boxes, onto which images and film were projected and dancers performed on top of. They also played crowd-pleasers "It’s A Sin", "Go West" and "Always On My Mind".
Another highlight from the Obelisk Arena were Datarock; those chaps from Norway really know how to get the crowd going. Entering the stage with matching red tracksuits decorated with their band name they had the audience eating out of their hands with their electro-tinged dance rock. The crowd were encouraged to sing-along with "Computer Camp Love" and the lyrically complex "Fa-Fa-Fa". The set was a blast, with highlights including the lead singer jumping into the crowd and later kissing the bassist (with tongues).
Latitude does Film, theatre, debate and surprises
We checked out the Film and TV Arena to find ourselves in the midst of a political debate on green issues with the Climate Minister Ed Miliband. Some thought-provoking topics were brought up and members of the public were encouraged to ask questions which put the minister on the spot (like when he didn't know how much the government had spent bailing out the banks!). We then discovered one of the secrets of why Latitude works so well: it stays current (green awareness for example), but also encourages people to interact with the events and have their say.
The Poetry Arena was a lovely place to escape to, every time we walked past the tent we felt compelled to take a look in. The dramatic delivery of some performance poetry was captivating. While some of the poems could be considered a little too racy for children, we'd recommend taking some time out here on your way past.
On Sunday we attended "Afternoon tea" a debate hosted by Stuart Maconie and friends. The audience were invited to participate in an appropriate debate on whether or not Middle England still exists, particularly in the context of Latitude. Interestingly enough, the question was already answered by the people in attendance: affluent, informed and well-spoken individuals. It would be a fair assumption to say that this constituted the vast majority of the visitors to Latitude.
Earlier on the same day we caught Thom Yorke's set on the Obelisk stage – essentially as a one man band surrounded by keyboards, guitars, bass and synthesisers. Thom had presented quite a challenge for himself, having only one pair of hands, but managed admirably by playing with instrumental loops. "This one never works … see told you so" he quipped when a piece of equipment malfunctioned. He played tracks from his solo "The Eraser" album and a few Radiohead covers including "Everything In Its Right Place". He also played a new track introduced as having "…been on the shelf for a while and will probably stay there, so go take a p*ss or whatever while I play it." After joking that it had never been recorded, someone in the crowd shouted back "it will now", the response from Thom was "OK, see it now on Youtube."
A real highlight of the Festival for us was Bombay Bicycle Club on the Lake Stage; wow - they really gave it their all, having short dancing fits during instrumental breaks. At one point the bassist swapped with the lead guitarist and climbed up the speaker stack much to the amusement of the audience as he almost fell off. A small and polite mosh pit appeared towards the front of the crowd as teenagers (and a few twenty eight year olds) sang along to their favourite songs. They finished with the slower album version of "The Hill" – although we would have preferred the adrenaline-fuelled version from their first EP "The Boy I Used To Be".
Latitude has a touch of magic
When it gets dark the festival is far from closed for the night, it takes on a new magical persona. Down by the lake there were dramatic light displays as the water was lit up to make a series of projected shapes, at one point there was a big baby gazing up to the sky while toys flew over his head. Spheres took to the water to the sound of a flute playing and an orchestra performed on the waterfront, illuminated on stage over the lake. Picturesque flower lights adorned the trees and highlighted the natural beauty of the surrounding woodland.
One of the best acts we saw were punk-funk act !!! (pronounced "Chk Chk Chk") at the ethereal Sunrise Arena. At first it looked like they only had a small following, but minutes before they took to the stage hundreds more people crammed in after leaving the Editors' performance. Moments before the set began the clouds burst open (we mean REALLY opened), people were running towards the tent completely soaked. Fans soon forgot their soggy clothes and danced like their lives depended on it. Openers came from their back catalogue, like "Must Be The Moon" while vocalist Nic Offer mounted the security barrier to sing with the audience, much to the chagrin of the security. Then came a short confrontation between the two parties, with Nic exclaiming: "shut the f**k up, man, I’m just trying to do my job." All this served to do was spur the crowd on and unite them against the over zealous security guards.
Cue a spot of crowd-surfing with hilarious consequences: a million hands hoisted up one eager surfer who then refused to be dragged away by security as members of the crowd pulled him back and forth as the men in fluorescent tried and failed to grab him, teasing them by dangling his legs at the front of the stage. The crowd responded with cheers and "oooooooohhhhhh" as they tried to grab him. Crowd 1, stewards nil.
Latitude is hard to leave behind - we will be back!
With Sunday drawing to a close, we were truly sad to leave Latitude. Before we had even left there were text messages making their way to our families, asking them if they fancied going next year. We have never thought about going to a festival with family members but our experience of Latitude certainly changed all that.
We would unequivocally recommend this festival to anyone of any age, don't believe it when people say they are too old to go to a festival - think again. Latitude restored our faith that there is still hope for people with family commitments or those in the autumn of their lives wanting a slice of the festival cake, but maybe a bit overwhelmed by the big summer festivals.
There is something for everyone at Latitude and that is what makes it so lovely. Plus there's much we left unexplored and acts left undiscovered, like early morning Scrabble, films in the forest or celeb-spotting at the BBC Radio tent – we barely even got started on the theatre tent.
So don't settle for a festival plonked in the middle of any old field, demand a lake, demand late-night orchestral spheres, demand poetry until 2 o’clock in the morning … demand Latitude!
Oh, and if you need any more convincing, there is even free toilet roll in the loos!
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